Radical self-care is the idea that when you accept full responsibility for taking care of yourself first before trying to take care of others, not only will you benefit, so will everyone around you.
It encompasses the idea that self-care is not just about doing nice things for yourself. It’s also about what you do and how you show up for yourself every single day.
With stress levels at new highs around the world due to the pandemic, it’s more important now than ever to bring out the best in ourselves by embracing the concept of true self-care.
In this post, I’ll share 7 examples of self-care that you may not have considered, yet can make a big difference right away.
Why is Self-Care Important?
The concept of radical self-care may be foreign to many of us, and yet when you think about it, it should be the most natural thing in the world.
When you love, and nurture yourself just as you would a loved one, you have more energy to give. You feel fulfilled and motivated and just by taking care of yourself everyone around you benefits.
A recent article in Psychology Today states that it’s not about forcing yourself to be in a positive state all the time. That’s unrealistic. Instead, it’s about finding ways to be in a positive state more often. “To find ways to nurture and nourish ourselves so we can stay more centered.”
“If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete.”
7 Self-Care Tips You Can Incorporate Right Away
It may seem strange to be talking about perfectionism in an article on self-care. But as a recovering perfectionist myself, I know the harm that can come from attempting to be a perfectionist in all areas of your life.
Of course, there can be times when perfectionism might be a good thing – for example, if I’m about to have surgery, I’d really like it if the surgeon operating on me was something of a perfectionist.
If someone is doing work for me, I do like them to have perfectionist tendencies because that means they’re more likely to do a good job, particularly if it’s fine detail work.
Being a perfectionist can frequently get in the way though, and can even be very unhealthy. For example, perfectionists often don’t just have high standards, they can have unrealistic expectations and standards.
Like many people, I used to find it really difficult to delegate or to let anyone help me. I usually ended up doing things myself because it seemed easier and I knew it would be done the ‘right’ way.
As I discovered, that’s a really good route to stress and exhaustion. You can only keep that up for so long, and it really is a turn-off for others because they know you don’t trust them.
Before you know it, you HAVE to do everything yourself, because nobody else wants to set themselves up for rejection by trying to help you!
Perfectionists generally have a set of rules they live by and they expect others to live up to those rules. That’s setting yourself up for frequent disappointment - because other people won’t be able to live up to your rules. Most of the time they don’t even know what they are!
For example, you might have rules about always being on time, being considerate to others, doing a job a certain way or even cleaning up after yourself. If you expect everyone else to follow those same rules too, you’ll very often be disappointed.
Research has shown that perfectionist tendencies have been linked to things like:
- Depression and anxiety
- Social anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Eating disorders, and much more
This article in Medical News Today shows how perfectionism can affect your mental health.
So perhaps there is a healthy version of perfectionism, which is about having high standards, motivation, discipline and wanting to a good job, and an unhealthy version, which is when your best never seems good enough and everything seems to frustrate you.
Also, you might need to be more of a perfectionist in your work, but perhaps it’s not serving you to be a perfectionist in other areas of your life.
The key is to notice where and how it serves you, and where it doesn’t. Also to recognize that being hyper-critical of yourself and everything you do is not serving you either.
This is how it applies to self-care.
I began to notice that for me, my perfectionist tendencies were mostly not serving me. So I now acknowledge that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I still have high standards, and I always like to do a good job, but I no longer beat myself up if I make a mistake, I just put it right to the best of my ability and move on.
Examine Your Expectations
The next area where you might not recognize an opportunity for improved self-care is with your expectations.
Your expectations are set by the beliefs that you have. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” If you expect yourself to fail, then you will, and if you expect yourself to succeed, then you will.
Just like most things, expectations can be helpful or not helpful. So it’s important to be aware of the expectations you have and how they are serving you. You may have some unhelpful expectations that you’re not aware of, and they can make life unnecessarily difficult.
It’s particularly important for those of us who are empathic and/or highly sensitive to be aware of and pay attention to our expectations because we tend to have extremely (and often unrealistically) high expectations of ourselves, and therefore of others.
Also, because we see and experience things in a different way, with a lot more sensory input, we often have a tendency to expect that others see and feel what we do, which they don’t, and can’t. When we expect them to, this sets us up for massive disappointment.
Here are some examples of expectations that can get in the way:
- The expectation that life should always be fair – it would be nice if this were true. Unfortunately, things often happen that are not fair. The more you hold on to the unfairness of something that’s happened, the more stuck and frustrated you will feel.
- The expectation that other people should have the same values and integrity as you – I’m sure that by now you’ve experienced the fact that this is not true. Yet people often hold onto this expectation.
- The expectation that other people should have the same level of empathy as you – they won’t and in many cases can’t. If you’re an empath, the majority of people can never understand and feel the same way you do. Holding onto this expectation will not only continue to disappoint and upset/frustrate you, but it will also affect many of your relationships.
- Then there’s the expectation that you can help everyone or change someone – the truth is, not everybody wants to be helped, and it’s not your responsibility to take on the problems of others. If someone doesn’t want to change or doesn’t see that they need to, then nothing you say or do will persuade them otherwise.
If someone does come to you because they have a problem and they need help, you can support and guide them through it, but the change has to come from within them. There is only one person you can change, and that is you. I know from experience that holding onto this expectation will leave you feeling exhausted.
These are just some of the expectations that can get in the way. Keep in mind that highly sensitive and empathic people often have many other unrealistic expectations as well, such as: that other people should understand you, people should automatically know and respect your boundaries, or that you should try to fit in and be like everyone else.
As with everything, it comes down to awareness. The more aware you become of your expectations, the more you will be able to see whether they are supporting you or standing in your way. Can you see how awareness of your expectations will contribute to caring for yourself?
Be Aware of the Emotions and Intention (Energy) Behind Your Thoughts and Actions
Think about someone who wants to lose a few pounds and become a little healthier. Every time she exercises it’s because she hates how she looks and is desperate to lose the extra weight.
You could argue that she is taking care of herself by exercising. So that is self-care. I would argue that it’s not self-care, because the energy and emotion behind it is coming from fear and disgust.
If, every time you exercise, you’re doing it because you don’t like yourself, that is not self-care. Imagine if, instead, you exercised because it feels good, because you know it’s good for your body and because there are many benefits to it.
The intention then is different. You’re doing it because it’s good for you, rather than because you feel you hate your body and have to lose the weight.
The energy is different. One is self-care, the other clearly isn’t.
If you’re not sure how you can make this change, try asking yourself this question: “What would be the most loving way to approach this?” When you take the time to ensure that the energy behind what you’re doing is supportive, you are truly practicing self-care.
Honor and Embrace Your Uniqueness
There’s so much pressure to be like everyone else and to follow the crowd. This article in Psychology Today explains some of the science behind why we are so influenced by others.
When I was growing up I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. It was clear though that I wasn’t like everyone else. I didn’t enjoy the same things, I didn’t think the same way, I felt and experienced things that others didn’t.
For many years I couldn’t understand why I had such a hard time fitting in, why others didn’t understand me, and kept telling me I was wrong to be and feel the way I did. I really wanted to be like everyone else, but it was exhausting.
Eventually, I discovered the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, thanks to the research of and books written by Dr. Elaine Aron. Learning that this is a trait that applies to others, as well as me was life-changing.
I discovered that approximately 20% of the population has nervous systems that are ‘wired’ differently, making them much more sensitive to sensory input. Understanding this finally helped me make sense of me.
As I learned more, my whole life made much more sense to me. I realized also that the majority of the clients I have worked with over the years also have this trait. I was amazed at how this had happened naturally.
Once I stopped trying to fit in and be like everyone else I was able to connect with my true self. Once I started owning that and embracing it I found that my relationship with others naturally improved.
Nature Connection as Self-Care and Earth Care
by Joan Vorderbruggen
"Long before I was old enough to understand what it meant to be an introvert or a highly sensitive person, I recognized that nature was my refuge when I needed to take a break from a stressful or overly stimulating situation. The natural environment became a place I sought to find joy, to feel a sense of curiosity…wonder…peace. During times of heartbreak and loss, Nature was there to heal, to gently (or powerfully!) remind me that there are seasons in all life - death, dormancy, planting of seeds and growth. When I found I could become certified to share Nature’s source of healing and well-being with others, I decided to train as a guide for Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing).
We are at an incredibly powerful time in history right now: our natural environment is severely stressed, and we as human beings are as well, not only due to the pandemic, but with so many other sources of anxiety weighing on us. These may be amplified if we’re particularly sensitive to the world around us or to emotions that others project outwardly. However, this powerful confluence of human and environmental upheaval can also serve as a catalyst for transformation for both - after all, we ARE part of Nature and it is a part of us. We have a innate biological connection to the natural world, and it is only in the very last few minutes of human existence on earth that we have not been intimately connected with the land!"
It is my belief that if we can care for ourselves through being more present in Nature, we will also find ourselves caring for the Earth. Connecting deeply to our natural surroundings can give us the strength and support to heal and achieve a greater sense of well-being.
I invite you to connect with my blog post with both a written and recorded audio of a Forest Bathing “invitation” where I guide you through a sensory 25 minutes in a natural setting of your choosing.
I have always felt most comfortable in nature. I particularly love being around trees and am fortunate enough to have plenty of them where I live. Whenever I feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, spending even just a few minutes in nature restores my energy and brings me back to balance."
By Leah Walsh
“Wait for meeee!!” I holler from the bathroom, releasing any final bits of toothpaste from my mouth.
Jumping over the side of our worn out couch, my 8-year-old gymnast body squirms and settles in next to my younger twin brothers who are saddled up to my mother. Her knees are bent so the open book resting against them is well lit by my aunt’s passed-down lamp that stands on duty, loyally streaming down from the table behind her.
As a young child, these nights of reading before bed were my version of heaven. My love for stories started with my first breath.
I will gladly vouch that spending time with a good story is a form of self care. My heart has melted and been smoothed over countless times when following characters who navigate paths that mirror my inner world. However, what I want to share today is actually how telling our own story can be a form of radical self care.
So many sensitive people don’t feel heard and seen in a multitude of ways by the time we reach adulthood. One of the secrets that I’ve learned is that our stories are storehouses for our personal power. If we don’t even feel ourselves worthy of having a story to tell, then we can’t know our strengths or be loved by people who are able to safely meet us in the present moment.
As we make space for our stories, it’s amazing to see how they change! Some parts wither, some get pinned to the earth like a gravestone, some brighten, some sing. As this happens, our brain and biology also shift. Stories help our rich inner landscapes meet the outer world - they help us know and be known - for the challenge and beauty that makes us.
Think back to the time you started to realize you were highly sensitive. Was there something about that re-frame of your own life experiences that helped you narrate your own story in a new way? It was for me! That is an example of how telling your story inherently ask you to clarify what you really believe about yourself, your lived experiences, and the way they shape and define you.
Recently, this article was shared with me. This piece re-frames high sensitivity as “sensory intelligence.” This simple change in language helped several people in my community feel like their sensitivity was not a liability to manage, but actually came with clear gifts that can impact all areas of their lives. They started to rewrite and explore their own story in new ways.
Today I witness clients put their gifts of deep empathy, strong emotional intelligence, loyalty to meaningful work that values their unique contributions on the top of their resume. “I want them to celebrate me. If they can’t value these gifts I have along with my preferences that help me excel at work, then I am not their person.” This narrative pivots from the I’ll do whatever anyone else needs of me in order to be worthy narrative that was certainly my survival strategy as a kid…and is quite common for sensitive kids (and adults) so tuned into the adults in their lives.
So I’m excited to ask you - What narrative pivots are you ready to make as you begin to tell your story? What is possible? Can we honor the pain and loss of the past while continuing to ask, What does it mean to thrive?
Ways to Practice
Write. Two of my favorite prompts are, This is what I really want to tell you… and What I really don’t want to tell you....
Listen. Podcasts, storytelling events, observe your friends, interview your relatives - be with people who engage the craft of storytelling.
Tell. Find the people who have earned your trust. Lean into your senses. Explore simple ways to share your story. Be slow and gentle, but begin.
Let me fall…for I will be caught by who I am becoming. - Cirque de Soleil, Quidam
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Moth Storytelling Events and Podcast
Healing the Mind through the Power of Story by Lewis Mehl-Madrona
Brave & Tender Monthly Virtual Meet-ups for sensitive & neurodivergent humans
Leah Walsh (she/her) is a student of storytelling, believing it to be an art capable of integrating the past while clearing space for a just and beautiful future for all beings. Her signature coaching program supports highly sensitive, neurodivergent, and introverted leaders to ground their confidence, cultivate deep-rooted belonging and awaken their unique impact. To learn more about Leah’s work, visit leahkwalsh.com."
You always know when a friend is a true friend when they are willing to tell you uncomfortable truths.
My good friend Jackie once told me something about myself that was difficult to hear. We were discussing a challenge I was having with a particular person who was routinely rude to people and did not seem to have any respect for anyone.
I was struggling with this and said that I found it difficult to understand how a person could be so mean to others. My dear friend then told me that in fact I was mean - to myself.
It took me by surprise, but I had to admit it - she was right. As mean as that person was to others, I was that (and more) to myself.
I talked to and treated myself in ways that I wouldn’t dream of treating anyone else. I think that many people are the same way. We are our own harshest critics.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Since then I have discovered that when I treat myself with kindness and respect, other people do too. I accomplish more and it’s a much nicer way to be.
The idea of self-love is difficult for many people.It was certainly difficult for me back then. It isn’t any more, but if you find the idea of self-love difficult, at the very least make an effort to be kinder to yourself.
This is the most basic act of self-care.
Find ways to be kinder to yourself and then every other aspect of self-care that’s been presented here will come more naturally.
These examples show how we have the opportunity everyday to choose self-care in multiple ways. Radical self-care requires awareness. It requires you to be conscious of who you are and how you are showing up for yourself in all areas of your life.
You can choose to let go of feeling not good enough, and the expectations you hold that are not serving you. You can choose to find the most joyful and caring ways to do whatever you need to do, rather than being harsh with yourself.
Radical self-care means knowing who you are, what your needs are and unapologetically allowing yourself to be you. Restoring your connection with nature helps you restore your connection with your (true) self. Sharing your story with others not only opens you up and helps you claim your uniqueness - it helps others do the same.
Most importantly, you can make a commitment to greater self-care by being willing to be kinder to yourself.
When you take better care of yourself everyone benefits. You’ll find that your energy and experiences improve - personally and professionally.
What is one thing you can take away from this that will help you connect more deeply with yourself?
If you’d like to learn more strategies for maintaining your energy balance, particularly at work, sign up for my Free Guide for Maintaining Your Energy Balance (and Sanity) at Work.
“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn't healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” – Kim McMillen